Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The girl on the train

In case you've been wondering why all the late night music links, and bloggage about family, friends and such like is that I've had something preying on my mind over the past week, that was finally set to rest today.

I've been a typical man and buried my head in the sand and not gone to the Doctors, even over a month after the symptoms first started. But it is only since Thursday last week when I casually described the symptoms to Alex and he mentioned that someone else he knew had the same symptoms and had ended up with pneumonia I started to panic.

As someone with a history of heart/ blood pressure problems stretching back to 2003 this was not good.

The symptoms, a weird fluttering sensation in my chest, couldn't place whether it was from the heart, the lungs, digestive tract or wherever, but just made me feel plain damned weird! Of course I start imagining all sorts of horrible thoughts about what it could be, then how my wonderful family would cope without me and then I end up in a dark place. Who to confide in - well finally came clean to my wife how bad it was and she forced me to go and get it checked out.

I didn't really discuss it with anyone else, other than a brief mention, as you all know I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, and don't want to burden friends unnecessarily with my problems when they have so many of their own right now.

I had one of these today, no idea what any of the lines mean though.

Anyway, having had an ECG and various checks, it seems I have developed an ectopic heartbeat. Now various causes of this were mentioned but the key one identified was excessive caffeine consumption. I have been knocking back an awful lot, my main source of liquid intake through the day being filter coffee and diet coke. Well this is easily changed. Various other things such as stress were mentioned, and it's true I do allow myself to get stressed unduly by things, so I am going to try and chill out a bit, and concentrate on simple family matters, trips to the park, JTV with Claire, and just take a little step back from things for a while.

Anyway - on to the song. This you will recall is a new feature where I present to you a song and hopefully a little story about it, building up over time into a little soundtrack of my life.

I'm thinking back to about 1984, and a shy awkward teenager that I was at an all boys school who could barely pluck up the courage to speak to a girl. Bet that's shocked you, I've changed a bit since then, haven't I? Anyway on the bus back from Oxford there used to be this lovely girl with long blonde hair who went to one of the girl's schools in Oxford. I used to look at her every day for about 2 years and longed to pluck up the courage to speak to her but I never did.

This song, when I first heard it reminded me of it. It's by a band called the "Divine Comedy" you may remember from the late 90s. I do love the Divine Comedy as they always tell a story in their songs, unlike most of the mindless pap around these days. Anyway this song concerns a man who catches a train to work every day and becomes besotted with a girl that sits opposite him. In his mind he builds an entire fantasy world around this girl, yet never dare speak to her for fear of shattering his illusion.

Anyway, the girl on his train was the girl on my bus all those years ago.

A picture of a girl on a train.

It might be better to cut and paste the link into another window as when I did it, it navigated me away from this page.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Booze Cruise

Well here I am safely returned from across, or should I say, under "La Manche".

Luckily the old gits did not succeed in their plan!

Alex picked me up at 6am and we were set fair on the drive to Folkestone. Apart from the usual slowdown around the M25 we made it in good time, in fact we were able to get a train half an hour before the scheduled one.

This was my first time for me through the channel tunnel, and how easy was it? Amazingly so. When I think of the aggravation of the past, getting on and off ferries, not to mention the horror of the airport experience these days, this was a piece of the proverbial. If you haven't been, you literally drive your car straight into a train, park up, sit there and crack open the flask of coffee, sit back and relax, off goes the train and about 40 minutes later drive out the other end, hey presto! You're in France!

Inside the train

Now all had gone well up to this point. Unfortunately we now hit a small snag. Now Alex, has just bought an amazing new car, christened by Jo as "the gay car", but to me it was more like something out of Star Trek considering all the gadgets on board.

Now, without wanting to sound like Bryn from Gavin & Stacey, I found the Sat Nav fairly awesome. Having somehow avoided encountering them up until now, I was somewhat impressed to say the least, despite the slightly gargling and stuttering voice on occasions. At one point it even told us what car park space we were in, the mapping is that detailed. Now Alex had programmed in a number of the days planned locations in, unfortunately on arrival the Sat Nav became confused and couldn't work out we were not in England. Fortunately our first stop was very close to the chunnel exit, but Alex had a moment's panic when he thought that all our other planned destinations we may have to find our way to via traditional means, i.e. guess.

Eventually the Sat Nav did sort its act out, after our first stop which was the Cite Europe centre, and specifically the Carrefour hypermarket which is huge. Probably comparable to the Asda in Bletchley but as far as I could see more or less all food. And what an amazing selection of cheese and salamis to salivate over! But more of that later. This was first and foremost a "booze cruise" and this is what we had come for:

We had calculated we could fit in about 72 bottles (12 boxes) each. 

Now the tax on wine in Britain is primarily on the bottle as opposed to the cost, so you'll save roughly the same amount per bottle. Now as far as I can see this is around £2.50 a bottle, so the value is very much at the lower end of the market.

i.e. a bottle costing £5 in England you can probably get for £2.50 in France. Whereas a bottle costing £15 you could probably get for £12.50. Can you see where I am coming from here? You're saving £2.50 on both bottles, but it's half the price on the cheap ones, and only a sixth on the expensive ones. Like everything in life, it's all about the percentages!

So I focused on the low-medium end of the market, looking for the equivalent of the sort of bottles I buy in England which are in the £5 to £6 range. 72 bottles at £2.50 a bottle that's a cool £180 saving. And this is a "real" saving, not a false one. As I would have bought and drunk the same amount of wine regardless, I am not going to just drink more because I got them cheaper. Hic!, excuse me!

Now I didn't get down to the really low end of the market, the cheapest wine we found was 0.92c. The cheapest I got down to was 2.50 euros, and I have tried that and perfectly drinkable.

Now Alex paid for the fuel and travel through the tunnel which came to around £90 I believe, I paid for our lunch 70 euros and a few xtras along the way (coffee, soft drinks, snacks etc) so we were about square. The point is say our expenses for the day were 90 each and our savings 180. So we've made a profit for the day in theory and had a nice day out to boot.

Anyway, we had a number of wine stops, and a few others visits as well, including a visit to a French version of Homebase.

For lunch we went into Calais and ate in a set menu, 30 euros per head restaurant. Now I was struck by just how good this restaurant was. Gourmet dishes, the sort of thing you'd expect in an Egon Ronay outlet, but at high street prices. Really shows up the shoddy service we put up with elsewhere. The French really do attend to your every need, from taking our coats to the little chocolates and countless extras, I felt like I was dining in a £100 a head restaurant. To my eternal shame I showed myself up by asking if the steak came with pommes frites to some rather snooty disapproval from the waiter. That's what too many holidays in Spain does for you. Still it could have been worse I didn't ask for ketchup or vinegar.

Alex had an amazing mixed food seafood platter for his starter, oysters the lot and we went on with foie gras, steak, veal you name it. This was for 30 euros a head, remember! For dessert we opted for cheese. He offered us mild or strong - well obviously it had to be strong, We were then presented with 3 cheeses and instructions to eat them in a specific order! Well that was first for me. The 3rd of these cheeses was absolutely mouth watering and we made a note to look for it when we got back to Carrefour. And after much searching, I spotted it. And I even found some French Cheese Balls to go with it!

Just like the UK ones but with Unpasteurised Cheese!

They also stock a wide range of cured meats in France and various cured salami sausages. I sliced one up today in the Andrew James meat slicer and it was absolutely gorgeous!

Eventually time came to come home and we headed back to the train though we did get a bit of an interrogation at customs. It must be Alex looks a bit dodgy, as we all know I have an honest face, lol. Bit of a slow journey back on the M25 (how I've missed that since I left Nielsen - not!) Never mind, Alex and I never seem to tire of things to talk about so were able to put the world to rights. And back home in time to sample a bit of vino before bed.

Brilliant day out, can't understand why I have never thought of doing it before. But we will definitely be doing again!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason x x

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

I can save the world

Well, years on since the credit crunch and it's all doom and gloom, austerity, the UK billions in debt etc. And other countries in an even worse mess.

But I know the answer! Never one to shy away from controversy I have come up with an awesome plan to save the world! Well starting with the UK anyway. Now throughout this article you will find a few pictures leading up to this answer, perhaps they will give you a clue as we go along. Here's one to get you started.

Cheers! Go on, have another!

As I say, there's a simple solution to all this. I can tell the Government exactly where it has been going wrong all these years.

One of the things that we always hear about it the "Pensions timebomb", it's bankrupting the country, people are living too long etc. So they talk about raising the retirement age a year or two. Now pensions were a great idea when we were expected to live to three score years and ten. Retire at 65, "thank-you very much sir, here is your carriage clock". You then do a spot of gardening for 5 years and sit in your chair and then pop your clogs, job done.

Get your five a day in early.

Now at the same time for years the Government has spent millions telling us to exercise, eat healthily, give up smoking, drink sensibly (i.e. to a level it isn't worth bothering with in the first place) and so on and so forth. And lots of people have listened and so we're living longer and longer, needing more and more care and more and more pension money. Do you see what you've done, Government(s)? You've brought this all on yourselves.

So what I suggest is this! Turn everything on it's head. Run campaigns extolling the virtues of smoking, drinking and unhealthy food! Let McDonalds take over the world and think of the boost to the pub trade!

Now we all know about the five a day we are supposed to have - quite honestly I consider five a week an achievement in my case but I've made it to 42 in reasonable shape.

The current five a day looks like the following:

Now under my idea, I would recommend replacing the current five a day chart with something like this:

With all the extra tax revenue gained, and more people dying off earlier, the country will get out of debt, and we will all have a good time doing it. Eat drink and be merry.

You could go further and advocate more dangerous lifestyles, encourage more extreme sports, lots of unprotected sex, cut out all the health and safety rules and let people do what they want. When you think about it, it's not a bad idea, as it will mainly be the idiots that get killed anyway. Most sensible people will be OK. Admittedly some may get killed by the idiots, but that's life sadly, we all risk dicing with the proverbial bus every day anyway.

OK, so the downside of all this is that we don't live as long, but would it really matter anyway? Does anything we ever do or say really matter anyway in the long term? I mean there are people who are absolutely fanatical about healthy eating and fitness to the point of obsession, but the end result is going to be the same. Do they really think living on carrot juice and doing yoga and goodness knows what is going to make them live forever? The whole history of the human race provides evidence to the contrary so why bother. We're all going the same way, let's enjoy it.

When it comes to the religious angle, non-believers work on the theory that once you are dead that's it, so does it really matter to them when they go? And as for those with beliefs in a glorious afterlife, well my system is good for them too as they'll get there all the sooner.

Come on people, let's as a nation rise up and make Britain Great again! Cheers, mine's a pint, and what time does the kebab shop close tonight?

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason x x

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Happiness a cigar called? Well I wouldn't know, though the last time I had one, after the birth of my second child (forced on me by the lads in the pub) I did enjoy it. I'm not a smoker as you know, one of the few sins (as well as drugs) that just aren't me. As for all the other things, well, you have to enjoy life, don't you.

And enjoy it, I certainly do. I have a pretty enjoyable lifestyle I have to admit, I earn enough money, in one way or another (don't ask) on top of Claire's earnings for us to have a pretty comfortable life. Quite honestly, I think people should turn their talents to whatever suits them and if you can find a way to live, without having to work yourself into an early grave then do it.

I say this, because if it hadn't been for that health scare eight years ago I doubt whether I'd be here now. At 33, I may have owned a house, had a good job and all the rest of it but I wasn't happy. Two nights in hospital with blood pressure of 200/150 was enough to convince me there was more to life than driving up and down the M1 to present bullshit figures to arsehole people.

I have had an amazing birthday week. We've already covered the London trip, well on Wednesday the kiddies came home after a fantastic trip (for them) to the grandparents. In fact I think Ollie would stay their permanently if he could - so much more fun than with the boring old parents he has to see every day! Bit harsh really, they don't know how lucky they are. Today I have spend a fair few hours with Ollie "heading the ball" - a little football game we play, drawing pictures of triangular stairs (don't ask) whilst me and Jamie have been row-rowing the boat and wheeling a toy truck back and forth across the floor to each other. He never tires of this but my limit is about 20 minutes.

I play with my children all the time. We run around the table, hide, tumble about, whatever they want to do really. Jamie is growing up into a lovely little boy. I still have concerns about Ollie, but I want to speak to the school and see how he is getting on there, we will see how the next parents evening goes.

He behaved very babyishly (is that a word?) at Wyevale. I just think it's a bit pathetic to cry at the age of 4 1/2 when an 18 month old girl bumps you in the ball pool, and equally wimpish to climb up the frames and then cry because he is too scared to come back down or go down the slide. Which every other child from the age of 2 to 9 is gleefully and happily doing.

Thank God (and I can say that because he is in a C of E school) that there is such a caring environment in his school because back in the 70s when I was his age or probably even now in a rough inner city school he would get eaten alive. I just want him to toughen up and man up a bit - am I being so harsh? It's something we all have to do at some point or another. I certainly wasn't the toughest kid, physically or mentally back in my school days, but I've learnt to be strong over the years. Now I see myself as a very kind, generous and loving person who would do anything for my family and friends - but equally, woe betide anyone who threatens us, as I can and will do anything I have to to protect my nearest and dearest.

Hopefully I can help Ollie to draw on some inner strength, in the same way I have some very close friends of mine in recent times, who I like to think I have helped, in whatever small way I could.

Some people get me - some don't. All the crazy stuff I have done over the years - a few off the wall, JTV schedules, the Grand Annual, Ham and crisp obsessions, mad letters to Walkers, I could list millions, my quirky and weird sense of humour, and all the other things that make me, well, just "me". That is "me" - warts and all. I never ever make any pretence about myself - I am totally honest about everything. If I am good at something - fine, If I am crap at something - I'll admit it. But what you see is what you get with me. And I will always treat people back the same way that they treat me.

I have some amazing friends who love me for who I am and I am so grateful to every one of you for making the effort to get to know me, even if first impressions (never been good at them) weren't encouraging. I'll do anything for any one of you and you know it. But those who don't like me - fine, just keep out of my life. Best for all concerned.

On Thursday we went to Oxford and discovered that once again our favourite restaurant (this time Brasserie Gerard) had closed down. I seem to be able to curse any restaurant in Oxford to bankruptcy just by patronising it. So this time we went to Giraffe, which I highly recommend particularly if you have kids. In the evening all my friends went to the Kings Arms for the karaoke where a little surprise had been made for me. My best friend Lynda baked me an amazing cake in the shape of a ham. This was the best and most amazing cake anyone has ever made for me in my 42 years, and you can see a piccie at the top of this blog entry. It's one of those moments you cherish when you realise how much your friends really care about you. Like that time when I left Nielsen's and they presented me with a 48 pack Box of Walkers Beef & Onion crisps.

Friends, family, what would I do without you? Thank-you so much for being so kind to me and appreciating me for who I am. I like to think I more than return that love and you know, those of you that count, I'll be there for each and every one of you.

We've had a fantastic week, and you've all been part of it in one way or another, we've loved, laughed, sung, drunk, played and been merry. Life should be like this for all of us, all of the time. Happiness isn't hard to achieve, you just need to find the right people. And I know that I've found mine x x

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason x x

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Dream Date

Once again during my trip to London I passed by close to the London Eye and got to wondering if anyone had ever had a shag on it.

In public I am guessing probably not as you go in a car with about 30 other people and there are not exactly any hidey holes where one could perform such a feat, even if your lady sat on your lap it would look suspicious. I am thinking maybe being tossed off under a blanket might just about be feasible, but hardly the most romantic way to take advantage of the setting of floating high above the London skyline.

Now with it being Valentine's day and all, I thought, whoever runs this wheel is missing a trick here. What an opportunity to get make some serious money by offering the ultimate Valentine's day date. Now as we all know there's loads of idiots with more money than sense in London (bankers, stockbrokers, MP's - take your pick) so why not get them to spend some of it. Now for what I propose I would suggest perhaps a fee of say £5,000. Expensive enough to keep out the riff raff but well within the budgets of some of those overpaid types mentioned above, who probably earn that much in a day.

So let me introduce you to the Valentine's Day Dream Date - or if you prefer - The Ultimate Shag.

Now the wheel takes about 40 minutes to go round, I assume you can adjust the speed, so I reckon slow it down so it takes about an hour. You book your time slot and then you are all set for 2 laps of the London skyline.

When you enter your car at say 8pm, waiting inside is a team of caterers, smartly dressed, all ready to serve you, with silver service, a head waiter, champagne all ready to serve and the table all laid out ready for you to sit down for dinner. Nothing is too much trouble for you from your highly efficient team, in a scene like a dinner party from Downton Abbey.

Over the next hour the wine flows freely, you enjoy a sumptious dinner, and make sweet conversation with your lady love, which will be your wife/ fiancee/ girlfriend/ secretary/ prostitute (delete as appropriate). Then as 9pm approaches, here comes the good bit.

Just before your car reaches ground level, your highly skilled team of caterers whip away all the plates and cutlery, completely clearing the table which then magically rotates 180 degress on its axis, converting instantly into a four poster bed. As Big Ben strikes 9 across the river, the doors open, your catering team bid you farewell, leaving you alone in the car ready for lap 2. As your car rises once more above the London skyline, your lover swoons in your arms as you too rise to the occasion, and enjoy a moonlit knee trembler in the ultimate romantic location. By 10pm you are back on terra firma, but grinning from ear to ear as you exit the car into the cold London night.

Not a bad idea I don't think at all, I will email Boris later and see what he thinks.

How about it, Boris? Can I have a free go for thinking of the idea?

Today is my birthday so I will be out shortly for a meal - we have eaten out virtually every meal for the last 3 days and then I'm having a little party with my friends down at the Kings Arms - it is happening there as that's where the karaoke roadshow lands on a Thursday evening. Really looking forward to it, and I believe that there's a very special surprise for me to look forward to! It's been a very well kept secret and I really don't know what it's going to be I just know it's going to be good!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason x x

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


End Of Part One!

Back in Doctor Who's heyday, most episodes would end with a cliffhanger. I thought in another world where I might have played the Doctor, this shot would have made a good final still of the episode with the daleks screaming "exterminate", cue rolling of the credits and the audience thinking, "how is he going to get out of this one?"

Just come back from a fab day out in London. Such things take a fair bit of organising what with the kids and all, but on this occasion Claire and I went without them. I was not going to take baby Jamie anyway, but I did offer to take Ollie. Now the highlight of our day was to be the Doctor Who Experience at Olympia, but when I showed Ollie the preview on the internet, he said "No I don't want to go to that, it looks a bit scary, can I go to Grampy's house instead?" Well who am I to argue, so Grampy came at 9am to collect the boys and off we went on the train!

Was on the train at 9:41 and by 10:41 we were already in Oxford Street. I don't know why people moan about trains so much, I find them a quick, convenient and relaxed way to travel. The only downside being the cost. We had a quick bite to eat in M&S (the second of the morning as had already had a sneaky Nash's) then headed over the road to HMV's flagship store.

A little poignant note on that front. The first time I ever set foot in this store was back on February 16th 1986, almost 26 years to the day. And I also remember what I bought on that day, and how much it cost. Whitney Houston's debut album, on vinyl, for £5.50, along with Hounds of Love by Kate Bush (same price). Which is what all albums cost then. The remainder of my birthday money I spent on a computer game from Harrods - for the Spectrum.

I still have this vinyl album somewhere.

Anyway after all this we headed for the main event of the day, at Olympia. Now it was Bestie Lynda who alerted me to the fact that this exhibition was ending soon and spurred me to organise the trip. When she found out she was "well jel" as she put it, and with just a little gentle hinting to Duncan was lucky enough to find her hubby treating her to the same trip. So at 1pm we all met up plus their oldest two kiddies, Cameron and Hermione, to enjoy the day together.

And a great day it was too. The main event was one of those things where you go from room to room having an adventure, including going into the Tardis. Now in here everyone had to help the Doctor fly the Tardis, there were a number of control stations you could man, this was supposed to be done by kids, which most were, however there was one adult (or big kid) who insisted on doing this himself - can you guess who?

Lots of 3D (or 4D?) fun with glasses, where a cyberman shot me, a dalek nearly grabbed hold of the end of Duncan's nose with its plunger, and Cameron nearly got grabbed by a weeping angel, all good fun.

Then round the museum/ exhibition where I was able to show off my supreme knowledge of the show, answering questions effortlessly, such as "why didn't the 6th - 8th Doctors have a sonic screwdriver" to which I was able to respond "Well in The Visitation, Episode 4 (1982), the Doctor was...". I'll spare you the rest. But here is the scene in which it met its demise, complete with what the Doctor (Peter Davison) said in reaction. It was not to reappear until 2005 when the BBC realised it could make millions selling cheap plastic replicas to a new generation of fans!

"I feel as though you've just destroyed an old friend"

Throughout my amazing divulgence of Doctor Who facts, I could not quite work out whether the look on Duncan's face was one saying a) "I have total and utmost respect for your amazing knowledge of these Doctor Who factoids" or b) "You geek". I like to think that it was a). I am just glad that Anne wasn't there she'd have been a b) for sure!

For me the funniest moment was when we found a little voicebox where you could record your voice and then have it speak it back to you in Dalek tones. Now Lynda, being the generous soul she is had brought along a selection of goodies for us to enjoy. Without her hearing, I recorded a little message then said "Hey Lynda, listen to this". And in pure dalek grating tones came out "I WANT SOME CHOCOLATE BROWNIES". Much chuckling! Sadly the daleks may be able to conquer the universe but were unable to gain control of the brownies which were eventually consumed in the cold waiting for a train at Kensington Olympia station.

So that was Doctor Who and then on to the aquarium, which was also good fun! Thanks to Lynda and Duncan's annual passes we did not have to pay, so many thanks for that! Sharks, stingrays, all the old favourites were there, sadly the penguins were a little lacklustre but you can't have everything.

After we bid farewell to the Sharps we nipped up to Chinatown for a quick bite in one of those all you can eat Chinese places. Cheap and cheerful, but we needed fuel and it did the job. We could not get into any other restaurants, tried TGI Fridays (90 minute wait) and everywhere else was packed but you would expect that on Valentine's Day. Anyway, Claire was not feeling at all well all day anyway, so we didn't want to linger, so headed back to Maryleybone, jumped on the train and were home by 9.

All in all, another very successful trip to London and I can envisage plenty more in the years ahead. It's just so easy to get to and there's so much to do.

I must thank the Sharps for a lovely day too, in particular Cameron and Hermione who I had great fun with, and who I thought were very well behaved. I really hope that Ollie can start joining us on these sort of outings,   up until now it just hasn't been possible, partly because of his age and partly because of his very difficult behaviour during his toddler years, but I am really hoping that we can move on from that. Tomorrow when the kids come back we are taking them up to Wyevale to the play area up there so that should be fun.

Well I hope you enjoyed the blog today, if you did not I have brought a couple of friends along (see below) with a final message for you!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason x x


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Karaoke Circuit

As you'll know the karaoke circuit is a venue down at the moment. The loyal and ever growing crew who loyally follow us around (Thursday at the Kings, Friday at the Star, Sunday at the White Hart) are missing their Friday nights at present. What are the regulars doing on Fridays? - probably staying in I would imagine. Like with most people who go to pubs for a specific purpose - if that purpose stops they don't go down regardless.

So we are down to just two karaoke nights on the circuit now, on Thursday and Sunday.

Back in 2003, when the White Horse changed their name to the Mustang (NB: changing pub names is never a good idea when will they learn!), stopped their Sunday night quizzes (as they wanted to attract a younger element), we stopped going down there. For a while we had our own quizzes at home and got pissed on cheap wine instead. Then we found a new pop music quiz over at the Bull at Launton which I frequented through to 2008 when I stopped as I began doing karaoke on Sunday nights and have continued more or less uninterrupted ever since.

Eventually the "Mustang" realised their mistake, they were not a YPV (Nielsen term - Young Person's Venue) in the middle of town, they were a community pub and re-instated their quizzes. But we were long gone, never to return.

I think most pub owners realise that these days it's not enough to just open the doors and expect the drinkers to flood in - those days are long gone. You have to make yourself attractive to the type of people you want through your doors. The pub trade has suffered onslaught after onslaught over recent years. A lot of this stems back to the Beer Orders act of 1989, I won't go into the details of what that was all about, but it was primarily brought about by CAMRA (a minority group) who wanted more variety of real ales in pubs and made a big song and dance about it. This significantly reduced the power of the brewers to control what was sold in their pubs and led to a lot being sold off - this is what led to the rise of the big faceless managed pub chains that we see today (Yates, Wetherspoons etc etc).

I don't care what anyone says, but these managed chains are soulless compared to pubs where it is the tenants business - i.e. traditional landlords. When you are in a pub like the White Hart you know you are somewhere where the business owner lives on the premises, runs their own business, it's their livelihood and they are interested in and care about the people who provide them with the livelihood. Whereas go into any big chain pub and no-one cares, all you are to the faceless manager is a statistic towards their sales target. Well that's how it seems to me anyway.

Pubs have been under all sorts of pressure in recent years. The smoking ban did not help, however was not quite the death knell that some were predicting. I mentioned earlier that it's not just enough to throw open your doors and expect people to come flooding in. Now a generation ago it was different - there was nowhere near the amount of alcohol available in the off trade as there is now - and the price differential was far less then than now. Over time, beer from supermarkets has got easier to get hold of (restrictions on licensing hours removed) and progressively cheaper to purchase. Whereas pubs, faced with every rising costs and some (not all) pub companies determined to screw every possible penny out of their tenants, have had to keep raising prices just to stay afloat.

That's where the Star fell down - having actually made a good go of turning round what has been, let's be honest, a pretty average estate pub, the tenants were punished for their success by having the pub company put up the rent money by several thousand.

Pubs also face a great deal of competition from home entertainment now as well - it's not just 3 TV channels and if nothing on we'll go out - there's PS3's, internet, etc etc. Plenty of things to keep people entertained at home.

But that's the negative side. Going to the pub or having a drink at home has never been purely about price, people still go out because it's fun to socialise! And it's fun to have something to do while you socialise. Now Friday and Saturday night are all well and good - it's busy and you can have a laugh, but what about the rest of the week? Well that's where the entertainment comes in. Quizzes, karaoke, live music, they've never been more popular as people want added value from their nights out.

I have probably about 15 core regulars who come to my Sunday night, but the pub is a lot busier than that - as lots of people come in who have no intention of doing karaoke they just enjoy being in a pub where there is something going on. I don't pretend that we're rammed, we're not, but I like to think it's a reasonable night's trade. By all accounts more or less everywhere else has given up on Sundays. I have a few little tricks I use to try and pull a few more people in - like projecting my lights out onto Sheep Street so anyone wandering around, maybe who doesn't normally go out on a Sunday will see the lights and think "oh looks like there is something going on there". The fact that all the karaoke people are down at the front also gives the appearance that the pub is perhaps busier than it really is. This is also good - as I am a great believer in "critical mass", or if you prefer a "snowball effect" in that the busier the pub becomes, the more people will be attracted in to it with a kind of "looks busy in there - must be a good night".

I've been there 3 years now and it has got progressively better during that time. It does take a long time to build something up from scratch, to build loyalty and a following but perseverance has paid off. Long may it continue.

I do so enjoy working in the White Hart, of all the regular venues I have had over the past six years or so it is by far the best, nice people, nice staff, just a general all round nice atmos. Without a doubt the best pub in Bicester and Aidan & Cathy have got the place just right. How anyone can want to have a drink in some of the other bland soulless venues up the other end of the street when you've got a thriving local like the Hart as an alternative is beyond me.

I normally spend my birthday evening in the White Hart, however, I will be making an exception this year, as my birthday next week falls on a a Thursday. Which means that most of my friends will be in the Kings Arms  at Mike's karaoke night, so that's where I'll be, I think my bestie may be preparing something special for me, and I've promised her I will be there for it so I cannot let her down. I've got a good day planned as we are out for lunch in Oxford in the day and will go out for a bite in the evening as well before we get to karaoke. So I shall probably be a bottle of wine to the good by the time I get there!

As for the Star and Fridays, hopefully whoever takes over the Star will recognise how popular Duncan's karaoke nights were and will re-instate them. I don't get to go up there that often due to childcare and work commitments (same with Thursdays) but it's always nice to have the option to go when I can.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Unique viewing habits?

Those of you that follow me will be familiar with the concept of "JTV" which basically refers to how I watch television.

I don't know anyone else who watches TV like me. But then I don't know anyone really who does anything like I do. I've never been quite sure if this makes me an individual or some sort of freak, who knows, I am sure you have got your own opinions! I just keep going along in a way that seems to work for me and seem to have muddled through alright so far!

To briefly recap, this means that other than the incessant Cbeebies during the day and a bit of sport here and there I watch hardly any live TV, the average evening's entertainment consisting of a carefully planned schedule of DVD/ Blu-Ray viewing.

And not for me the consuming a whole box set in a few nights, no, my shows are carefully rationed so for example we are currently watching Heroes - this is scheduled for Wednesday nights, one episode a week so it will take nearly six months to get through the first series. Then it will swap to another show for a few months until we begin a fresh run of Heroes.

Now as a huge fan of archive TV, JTV has historically featured many older programmes from the last century, and many of these can run for years. For example we are on the last series of Minder now (out of 10) and that has been running in rotation with another show for a good 3 years or more now.

Why do I do this? Well I simply have not got the inclination to wade through the TV guides and planners trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff on a weekly basis. I also don't have the commitment to follow a series "live" as it were, particularly with Claire's shifts jumping around all over the place, me out working weekends means I'd never see certain series at all. For example the whole of "Lark Rise To Candleford" was broadcast on Sunday evenings. Why not SKY+ it I hear you cry, I know some swear by this. Well I don't have SKY but I do have a hard disk recorder but I've never found them 100% reliable and you have to delete stuff in the end anyway to make room for more. And I like to physically own the programmes, I have a huge collection of DVD and Blu-Rays which I am proud of, and everytime I get a new one it's like a little thrill for me even if I know I am not going to get round to watching it for years!

The other irksome thing about trying to watch new shows on TV, is that you don't really know what you are going to get, I have lost count of the number of hyped new shows that turn out to be rubbish, either that or I only hear about some great new series half way through it's run - and one of the cardinal rules I have is that everything must be watched in sequence. Start at series 1 episode 1 and proceed from there (season 1 if it's a US show).

Because of my ignoring what's occurring on the actual TV, shows can completely bypass me and I can be completely unaware of their existence for years. Now JTV is changing - and modernising, because all those old shows are coming to an end on JTV and I have become increasingly aware over the last year or two that we truly are in a new golden era of TV. Amazing drama and comedy (the mainstays of JTV) is being produced in the UK and across the pond. But the whole thing about them bypassing me has an unexpected advantage. By the time they come to my attention they can already be several series old, which means they can be picked up very cheaply. Series 1-6 boxset - £19.99? That'll do nicely.

How do I find out about new shows? Eventually they seep into my consciousness in one form or another. I finally became aware of the existence of the In-Betweeners last year when the movie came out. And there it was - all three series waiting for me (we are half way through series 2 now).

Proof that British Comedy is alive and well in the 21st century!

When I become aware of a show, I do some research (basically looking on wikipedia and amazon) to see if I think I will like it and then take the plunge. The downside of all this? Everyone's talking about a big show and I'm several years behind so got to avoid spoilers at all cost! So any TV supplements etc are best avoided. Leaving me the only one blissfully aware as I watch series 1 of something that began in 2005 that it was major news that my favourite character died in 2010! And I am the only one in the country that doesn't know!

Last week began a series from the mid 2000's called "The Street", I mentioned Heroes, now finished, we are on series 1, at least a year behind on House, have an unopened boxset of Skins about to be started, nearly 3 years behind on The Office (USA version) an amazing show that anyone who has ever worked in an office must watch - don't be put off if you hated the UK Ricky Gervais version, this is a completely different show.

And I now have a new source of inspiration for new material - my bestie Lynda who is uncannily in key with my tastes in nearly all things, has made me aware of the existence of 3 new (to me) shows that look right up my street - Sherlock Holmes, Hustle and Being Human - the last two named I was totally unaware of their existence 24 hours ago.

But Lynda - even you can't be 100% on everything, sorry but I will never ever watch "Dancing On Ice". I am sure you just put that in your blog to wind me up! I guess we'll just have to call that one the exception that proves the rule.

Speaking of shows - it's only 5 weeks today until the greatest show on Earth begins! Mark Tuesday 13th March in your diaries, and the rest of that week, yes, it's the amazing and awesome Cheltenham Festival - which completely takes over my life for the week (and those of several of my other racing friends). I look forward to it every year, not only because it always seems that the festival co-incides with the first nice spell of Spring weather of the year - can't wait!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason x x

Sunday, 5 February 2012

It's "Snow" Joke!

Well, it appears the point of my last blog may have been missed - so just to clarify.

I love the subject of the weather, predicting the weather with a range of tools, in fact you could say I am an amateur meteorologist. I find it quite exciting when a weather event approaches e.g. major snowfall, storm, heatwave etc, trying to predict how it will all play out, and offering my opinions on the outcome. Now snow is notoriously hard to predict correctly, but I have successfully forecast the last 3 major snowfalls correctly as well as telling overexcited people when there isn't going to be snow, which more often than not there isn't.

What I hate is people making cliched comments that they think are funny. Now today I knew that the snow would start as a light powder and do nothing much in the first few hours. I could also correctly predict that Joe Public would come on to facebook to deride the apparent poor amount of snow, failing to take into account that it would come later. Sure enough after the light start around tea time along came the clever dick comments, here are a few I have pasted from facebook for your enjoyment.

That snow it pathetic!!! If it's gonna snow at least it could do it properly!! I make more in my bathroom with talcum powder

You call that snow lol more like icing suger lol

snow pah its a dusting

Now if only they had been following my 100% accurate predictions on both my own and Funky Mike's web pages they could have saved themselves looking foolish later. In fact this "light dusting" has been sufficient to make it impossible for me to get my car on to my drive tonight which has meant lugging lots of gear across Chapel Street.

Now I expect everyone will go to the opposite extreme, sadly those hoping for a snow day on Monday will be disappointed. The change in the air flow is sufficient to warm the air so that this snow will turn wet - maybe not warm enough to turn to rain but enough to melt a lot of it. Only the frozen ground is keeping it there at the moment. By morning it'll be slushy in places and if anyone wants some snow fun they want to get out as early as they can. 

I also hate the excessive media coverage, let's face it it's not exactly news is it. It's weather, that should come after the news!

Anyway, at least 3 people today seem to think that I am being hypocritical over this weather issue, all I can say is read my last blog, read this blog and then read my comments on both my own and Mike's pages. All I have wanted to do today is give helpful information rather than the total shite that most people write about the weather. If it means that I've set Daryl's girlfriend's mind at ease about her trip to London, then that's at least one person happy. (I might have to come back and delete that last sentence if all the trains get cancelled tomorrow - lol).

A picture of a car in the snow. I chose it because there's a restaurant that does steaks in the background, no other reason.

So that clears that up hopefully. Casting aspersions over me, indeed, it's unheard of, tut tut, and as you all know, just to be topical I am, to use an old cliche "pure as the driven snow". And if you believe that you'll believe any old guff I tell you. I guess I did get a bit lucky this time, all being fair, and I have shown off about it a bit (now us DJ's never do that as you know). Anyway if I was that good at predicting things all the time I would certainly have made a better job on today's racing, I think even the legendary "Sad Ken" from the classic episode of Bottom could have beaten most of my selections today.

In case you aren't aware of Sad Ken, this is what Wikipedia has to say about him.

"In the bookie's, Eddie places the bet and goes to watch the race with the rest of the drinkers. Sad Ken, who is blind and only has three legs, runs the wrong way and falls over, then is shot".

Dave Hedgehog, Spudgun and Eddie in the Bookies

Speaking of cliches, what is all this "You won't feel the benefit when you go out" about wearing coats indoors. Think about it for a moment. It's bollocks isn't it?

But then I never cease to be amazed at the absolute bollocks some people do talk. Speaking of which I wonder how young Glenda's getting on with his new website idea he told us about outside the pub the other Sunday. Going to be bigger than facebook apparently. Well I will kick myself in years to come for not investing there, won't I?

Love ya blog fans x x


PS: I wrote earlier about there being a "Scooby Doo" buffet at the disco I did. Quite simply, this is a 12 foot long table with about 40 plates on, which appears to offer a huge range of different buffet items, however on closer inspection it turns out that there are only about 6 different things, repeated at 2 foot intervals. Named after the trend in classic Scooby Doo for them to run down a long corridoor passing the same items on the wall behind them several times (a grandfather clock often featured) due to lazy cartoonists re-using the same images over and over again.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Weather With You

It never ceases to amaze me how the weather seems to amaze other people!

Now we all know that talking about the weather is a national British pastime, but honestly, I can never understand the surprise that comes across people, the media, you name it, whenever what I would class as quite normal weather patterns emerge.

"BIG FREEZE ON THE WAY" screams the headline on the Daily Express, on a pretty much annual basis. No shit, sherlock, it's January 30th. Now if you put that up on June 30th you might grab my attention.

"OMG - it's -3c" comes a random status on facebook. "Can't believe it".

Well I can - it gets that cold every year. I have seen statuses marvelling at the fact that rainfall is occurring. And similar such comments regarding the heat in the summer.

Seriously people, how long have you lived in this country? Let's face facts in every year, we are going to get some exceptionally windy days, a few downpours of rain, some cold snaps where the temperature drops below zero and equally some days in the summer when the mercury soars. I just cannot understand the mentality that leads a 33 year old woman to marvel at every single normal weather event that occurs!

The rumours are circulating regards the recently closed down Oriental Lily restaurant (formerly Parasol, Bar 28, Scandals etc). I heard a rumour it may become a steakhouse, I would so love that! It amazes me that in this English town we can dine on Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Thai food etc, but there's nowhere that you can go for a good old fashioned British Steak and Chips. And that is not racist, I'm all for muklticulturalism but there should be variety! We don't need several indian restuarants all doing the same thing. If Bicester was to have 12 restaurants, I would like them to all be serving cuisine from different countries. Now I'm not sure how many resturants we have, depends what you class as a restaurant. E.g. is Jenny's a restaurant or a cafe? - I would say a cafe? Is the Penny Black a restaurant? No, it's a shithole.

Anyone let's say for arguments sake it is about 12 and I reckon about half of them are indian. Now I don't like indian food, never have done, but even so, I am sure people who do love indian food would not mind losing a couple of them in the interests of variety.

How awesome would it be if we had something like a "TGI Fridays" or "Toby Carvery" right here in town? Yet somehow Bicester remains this little backwater where the national chains don't come. Despite our every increasing growth in population, it seems we are too little to bother with.

Dinner TGI Friday's style

Maybe all that will change with the new town centre. Here's hoping! Much has been talked about Sainsbury's and the cinema, well maybe they will attract some bigger names. What has not been talked about much is all the new retail units. I really hope they can be filled with some decent brand names. The last thing we want is another Crown Walk situation.

One name in particular springs to mind - now everyone's divided on the subject of McDonalds, but I think it's time we had one. I'm not a massive fan or even that frequent a user, but it's one of those things I just fancy occasionally, and if McDonalds decides this town's big enough for it, who knows, maybe we will get some decent restaurants alongside it.

Coming soon?
Well we live in hope. If nothing else it'll give the grumpys something else to moan about - "bloody burger boxes cluttering up the street".

Lots to look forward to this month! Action packed half term already lined up including a Valentine's Day jaunt to London to see the Doctor Who Experience at Olympia, Wyevale with the kids, lunch in Oxford on my birthday and karaoke fun in the evening with the Funkster, and then the crowning glory of the month, the booze cruise to France with Alex. It's always good for the soul to have lots of things to look forward to!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx